Collaboration

Six Sigma: an introductory guide for beginners

Six Sigma an introductory guide for beginners

Your clients’ satisfaction is an indispensable element for your project and your company to succeed. In order to guarantee this satisfaction, you should deliver quality products that meet your clients’ requirements. However, in reality, it is often difficult to achieve constant quality as fabrication processes may vary that can lead to errors and defects in the final product.

These defective products may have a significant and negative impact on the company, in particular because of the financial costs generated by rejections, alterations and customer returns for non-compliance, but also on its brand image as well as on customer satisfaction.

In order to tackle this issue, the Six Sigma Method aims to improve the quality, efficiency and feasibility of fabrication processes with a view of reaching a zero-defect level.

Definition

The Six Sigma is a method for improving the efficiency of processes. In fact, all processes are prone to variations that can cause errors and influence the quality of the final product. As a result, a product with defects won’t be satisfying for the client.

Thus, the Six Sigma method aims to reduce variations and the possibility of error in order to make the processes reliable so that all products comply with customer requirements. The goal is to produce flawless products on the first attempt, which reduces process costs (including eliminating the costs of touch-ups, recycling, scrapping and the risk of selling a non-conforming product) and increases customer satisfaction.

Originally designed for industrial use, the Six Sigma method is being used by a great number of diverse  businesses these days (in different fields: administration, logistics, commerce, ecology – as long as the process in question is measurable).

The Six Sigma Method is mainly based on:

– customer opinions collected from polls and satisfaction surveys,
– data from different key indicators.

Origins of the Six Sigma Method

The Six Sigma Method was created in 1986 by an American company Motorola which specialises in electronics and telecommunications. Their objective was to find a method that would help them improve quality of their production processes in order to better satisfy their clients. Nevertheless, it was only in the 1990s when the method became popular – thanks to General Electric who acquired and improved it.

Sigma is a Greek letter which designates a standard deviation. Therefore, six sigma means six times standard deviation. The Six Sigma method aims to ensure that all elements resulting from a process are included in an interval moving at most six sigma compared to the general average of elements resulting from this process (Wikipedia)

In the early 2000s, the method Six Sigma was associated with lean method and the Lean Six Sigma method was created.

How does it work?


Principles of the Six Sigma

The Six Sigma Method is based on several principles:

  • Customer-focused improvement: what are the customer’s  requirements, expectations and needs with regard to the product?
  • Continuous improvement:  once the Six Sigma Method has been implemented, continuous efforts to improve processes and your way of working should be put in place,
  • Reduction of variations: standardise processes as much as possible in order to make sure that they stay identical,
  • Reduction of waste: eliminate unnecessary stages or objects,
  • Team preparation: train your teams and equip them with all the necessary tools to execute the improved processes,
  • Process control: make sure that the processes are controlled using measurable data (indicators, statistics etc.)

Methodology

The Six Sigma is a complex method that can be efficiently put in place by using the DMAIC tool (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control)

  • Define: define objectives to reach, client’s needs and requirements as well as process(es) to improve; this first step will help you define the frame of your project.
  • Measure: evaluate the actual performance of your processes; you must collect data and understand how the process works.
  • Analyse: analyse the collected data in order to identify the problems (where, when and how faults/defects occur) as well as strengths and weaknesses of different processes.
  • Improve: implement improved solutions in order to remove previously identified problems; you should test and check if the improvements work before validating them.
  • Control:  an essential step to ensure that the newly introduced improvements work in the long term and there are no reoccurring problems.

By optimizing your processes, you make better use of your resources and reduce your operating costs.

Conclusion

The Six Sigma is a method of improving the quality and reliability of processes while aiming to reach a zero-defect level. The method is based on three main elements: clients, processes and measurements. The objective is to detect problems, identify their cause and improve processes in order to eliminate them. Overall, you improve the quality of your products and/or services, which contributes to improving customer satisfaction, your brand image and more generally – company results.

Nevertheless, the Six Sigma is a complex system that must be adopted by the whole company and implemented by trained collaborators so as to guarantee its chances for success.

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